First Muscle Cars Ever Made: A Look Through History

The first muscle cars in American automobile history go beyond some of the iconic vehicles that you know from the 1960s like the GTO and Camaros. Muscle vehicles have their roots in 1949 when the first one was made, and have remained one of the popular options for enthusiasts.

First Muscle Cars

If you’re interested in collecting vintage cars, you can also purchase some of the first muscle cars in second-hand markets. In this guide, we will look at the first ten muscle vehicles that were made in the United States.

First Muscle Car Made Was the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88

The first muscle car ever made was the 1949 Rocket 88, which kicked off this market that would expand by the 1960s. It was powered by a 303 cubic-inch, 5.0-liter V8 engine, and it could only hit 263 pound-feet of torque and 135 horses. Despite this seemingly weak power, the Rocket 88 won 10 out of 19 races in the 1950 NASCAR season.

The Rocket 88 was designed with a light body and a powerful engine, and this is what made up the design of modern-day muscle vehicles. The main appeal to customers at that time was the V8 engine, and the car had a smaller body. The engine, named the Rocket, also came with hydraulic lifters, aluminum pistons, an oversquare bore:stroke ratio, and a dual-plane intake manifold.

The Rocket 88 was a pretty fast car, too, for its time, as it needed around 13 seconds to hit 60 miles per hour. Its top speed was also 97 miles per hour. The Rocket 88 remained popular through 1951 and 1952 and was dubbed the “King of NASCAR.”

1955 Chrysler C-300

Another top American muscle car, and the next one that was released after the Rocket 88, was the 1955 Chrysler C-300. In 1955, Chrysler jumped into the muscle vehicle market to change its image, as most people saw their car as an “old man’s car.”

1955 Chrysler C300 Car

The Chrysler C-300 was larger than the Rocket 88 and powered by a stronger engine. It came with a 331 cubic-inch 5.4-liter V8 engine that could put out 300 horsepower. It could also accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 9.8 seconds. The car had a maximum speed of 120 miles per hour and offered exceptional handling.

The 1955 Chrysler C-300 is called the first real muscle vehicle by some enthusiasts. It also won the 1955 NASCAR Grand National Championship, and this was also done in 1956 by the 300B.

1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk

The Studebaker Golden Hawk was released quickly after the Chrysler, and although it had less horsepower, it still came with impressive power. The car was powered by a pretty large engine, a 352 cubic-inch 5.8-liter V8, but it only reached 275 horsepower. It was a two-door pillarless hardtop personal luxury car.

The Golden Hawk lasted from 1956 to 1958, but only 9,305 were ever built. It was designed by Robert Bourke, who received national kudos for the styling of the car. It was also praised for being almost as fast as the Chrysler but cheaper too, which appealed to customers that wanted to jump on the muscle car trend without breaking the bank.

Studebaker showed with the Golden Hawk that it was entering the sports car market, but the muscle car was still designed with seating for five to make it family-friendly. The main downside of the Golden Hawk was the driving dynamics, as it had a front-heavy bias that made handling difficult.

1957 Rambler Rebel

With the market becoming more competitive, the American Motors Corporation also joined with the 1957 Rebel. You can identify this car as the first mid-sized muscle car that was ever made. It was incredibly fast compared to other vehicles of that time, and so it could get from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 7.2 seconds.

The Rebel was powered by a 327 cubic-inch 5.4-liter 8 engine. This offered an output of 255 horses. The Rebel was a special release, too, as there were only 1,500 models produced in 1957. Although it was also released for a 1958 model year, the performance was not the same.

The Rebels also came with Silver Grey paint and copper-anodized side spears if you purchased the Custom Four-Door Hardtop body. It also came with a radio as standard equipment and interior trim with black nylon and silver-gray vinyl.

1964 Pontiac GTO

From the 1960s came the muscle vehicle wars, as many vehicle manufacturers were trying to make their cars better and dominate the market. The 1964 Pontiac GTO is credited for kickstarting the golden age for classic muscle cars and was designed by John DeLoreon, Russell Gee, and Bill Collins.

1964 Pontiac GTO Car

The GTO was powered by a 389 cubic-inch, 6.4-liter V8 engine that gave 325 horses. Buyers could use the optional Tri-Power carburetion, with 348 horsepower. It also had an impressive performance, going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 6.6 seconds. The car could go a quarter mile in 14.8 seconds.

The designers of the GTO were focused on combining the largest engine with the most lightweight car. The cars were marketed for street performance and tried to compete with Ferrari’s 250 GTO. The Pontiac GTO went down as one of the most famous muscle cars of all time.

1967 Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake

The 1967 Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake was one of the most popular muscle cars in the 1960s, but it also looked a lot like a sports car. It was a sleek American sports car and has been described as one of the most dangerous sports cars to own. In 2021, someone bought the last remaining 427 Super Snake for $5.5 million.

The muscle vehicle was created by Carroll Shelby, a famous auto designer and former racing car driver, who wanted to make the fastest car available. It was powered by the 427 cubic-inch V8 engine and could go up to 800 horsepower and 200 miles per hour with its Paxton superchargers.

The 427 Super Snake is the most powerful Shelby ever made. Because of the incredible power, only two units were offered. The car could go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3 seconds.

1968 Dodge Charger R/T

Although the 1968 Dodge Charger R/T was not as powerful or with as much horsepower as the 427 Super Snake (not many cars were), it was still very impressive and one of the first American muscle cars ever made. Due to this, it has become a solid part of muscle car history and even remained popular after the 1960s.

1968 Dodge Charger RT Muscle Car

You might spot the 1968 Charger R/T in different Fast and Furious movies as it served as Vin Diesel’s car. The star quality of the car is due to its iconic design. It came with a curvy body, refined tail, chrome touches and a hidden headlight grille.

The attractive appearance of the car is combined with its performance, as it comes with a 440 cubic-inch, four-barrel Magnum 8. It gave off 375 horsepower. You could also choose the 426 Hemi engine that gave off 425 horsepower. The combination of looks and engine power makes this a fantastic muscle vehicle.

1968 Plymouth Road Runner Hemi

One of the first muscle cars in history is the 1968 Plymouth Road Runner Hemi. This was a muscle car named after a Looney Tunes character, one of the features that improved its popularity. Plymouth got the rights to the name by paying $50,000 to Warner Brothers.

What made the muscle car even more unique was the horn, as the company even paid an extra $10,000 to Warner Bros for the iconic “beep beep” sound. Although it was inspired by a cartoon, the 1968 Hemi offered impressive power with a 383 cubic-inch four-barrel and V8 engine with an output of 335 horsepower.

You could also go for the 426 cubic-inch Hemi engine that offered 425 horsepower. Aside from the performance and the Looney Tunes design, there wasn’t much to the design. It came with no extra styling features or interior options. With the performance, it was a top contender and was released as a 1971 model year.

1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet

Another one of the early muscle cars ever made was the 1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet, as Ford was a major player in the muscle car wars in the 1960s. The Mustang was one of the major muscle cars in the industry, and it came with a lot of success.

Under the hood of the 428 Cobra Jet, you get impressive engine block power. It was powered by a 428 cubic-inch Cobra Jet V8 engine that gave off 335 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque. It could get to a quarter mile in 13.2 seconds, with a maximum speed of 107 miles per hour.

The Cobra Jet was the comeback king of Ford, as the brand was focused on gaining more popularity as other manufacturers were making pony cars. The muscle car was also designed with a high-performance 406 cylinder head, high-flow Holley carburettor, alloy police interceptor intake manifold and other parts to increase its performance.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

The 1969 ZL1 is one of the final muscle cars that graced the market in the 1960s. The car was provided in a limited number and provided impressive speed and power. It was designed by Dick Harrel, a racing driver that wanted to make a Chevy Camaro that could do great at drag racing.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

The ZL1 was powered by a 427 cubic-inch big-block V8 engine that allowed drivers to take advantage of the 550 horsepower and 5450 pound-feet of torque. The car was also really fast, as it could go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 5.3 seconds. It could go a quarter mile in 13.16 seconds, with a speed of 110 miles per hour.

Only 69 of the Camaro ZL1 were produced by Chevrolet, so it’s one of the rarest muscle cars in the community. It is a popular choice among collectors and auto historians, but it might be hard to find due to its rarity.

Frequently Asked Questions

– What Is the Most Powerful Muscle Vehicle?

The most powerful muscle vehicle is the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170, which has an impressive 1,025 horsepower. The car is powered by a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine with 945 pound-feet of torque. The powerful car also comes with infotainment features like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

– Who Is Considered the Father of the Muscle Car?

The father of the muscle car is considered to be Vale Carroll Shelby, who owned Shelby Motors. Although the Rocket 88 was the first muscle car ever produced, the most powerful and rarest muscle car was the 1967 Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake, also doubling as a sports car.

What Other Classic Muscle Cars Were Made Besides the 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass?

When it comes to classic muscle cars, the 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass certainly stands out. However, it’s important to note that there were several other iconic muscle cars manufactured during that era. If you’re interested in exploring further, a classic muscle car review 1973 will unveil names like the Dodge Charger, Plymouth Barracuda, Chevrolet Camaro, and Ford Mustang. These legendary vehicles embodied power, style, and the true essence of American muscle.


With this guide, you now know what the first muscle cars were and can purchase them for your vintage collection. Before you go,

here’s a summary of our article:

  • The 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 was the first muscle car ever made. It was powered by a 303 cubic-inch, 5.0-liter V8 engine and won 10 NASCAR races.
  • The 1955 Chrysler C-300 was a popular muscle car with a 331 cubic-inch 5.4-liter V8 engine that even won the 1955 NASCAR Grand National Championship.
  • The 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk was a two-door pillarless hardtop personal muscle car that was powered by a 352 cubic-inch 5.8-liter V8.
  • The 1957 Rambler Rebel was a well-known muscle car with a 327 cubic-inch 5.4-liter 8 engine and could get from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 7.2 seconds.
  • The 1964 Pontiac GTO was one of the most famous muscle cars ever made, with a 389 cubic-inch, 6.4-liter V8 engine that gave 325 horsepower.

This article has covered the first ten muscle cars made since they emerged in 1949. These cars were powerful and popular, and you can still get some of them in the vintage car market today.

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